With Christmas over, I am now done with winter and am looking for any signs of spring - be it the tip of a snowdrop pushing skywards through the earth to shrubs in full flower. OK technically these are winter-flowering plants, but they bring me hope that warmer and lighter days are just round the corner.
Whilst pottering around my garden over the past few weeks, I have photographed some plants that have made me smile and in some cases break into song!
At the moment, the evergreen shrub Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’ is flowering beautifully in my garden. The dainty clusters of white flowers, which open from buds tinged a pale pink, will go on bringing me daily joy well into spring. After flowering, this shrub provides a lovely backdrop to more floriferous perennials that come into their own in the late spring and summer months.
Laurus nobilis (aka bay tree) with it’s bright green evergreen leaves and red stems glows in the low winter sun and if trained into a particular shape, such as a lollipop, provides not only structure but interest in the garden year round. In my garden,
I have a characterful 8-year old lollipop bay tree in a container made from half a whisky barrel that stands proudly at the bottom of the steps to my kitchen along a south facing wall. Here, my bay tree is on hand to provide flavouring for winter soups and stews; in return, this location provides a sheltered spot from cold winds and frost and where she can happily soak up any sun with which we are blessed. In fact, this bay tree survived the two cold winters of 2009 and 2010 in this location without any additional protection.
As a lover of ferns, I have these prehistoric plants growing intentionally, as well as unintentionally all over my garden. Given the mild winter we have had so far, the small, semi-evergreen Dryopteris erythrosora is still looking stunning. From the open-arching shape of the clump to the copper-pink tones of the young fronds amidst the mature green fronds, this fern really lights up my woodland garden.
Another fern that is still going strong well into winter is Adiantum venustum. This fern has the most delicate of fronds that can add a lightness to a border. In my garden, this fern is growing well in a terracotta bulb bowl in the shade where it greats visitors to our house.
Hellebores can provide winter greenery under deciduous shrubs, but their large leaves also provide an interesting horizontal form. The unassuming bowl-shaped flowers, seemingly a little shy, come in a variety of colours. The ones I have in my garden at present (I am considering adding more to my garden on my next visit to the nursery) are the white variety Helleborus x hybridus 'Clear White'.
As I mentioned, these plants can provide winter greenery, though I had to remove quite a number of leaves that showed signs of being infected with a fungus that causes Hellebore leaf spot. Having fed the Hellebores with a good mulch of compost, I am hoping that the plants will be stronger to fight of this fungus in the coming year and they will be healthier. On the upside, removing these leaves lets me see the flowers a little better!
And finally (for now), Iris reticulata (possibly the variety 'George'), which I have growing in a pot on my back steps, is about to break into flower. This is early for even this early flowering dwarf iris. The mild December we experienced I am sure seduced it into bloom earlier than it normally would. And of course, no sooner than it raised it's beautiful head, did the weather change bringing with it snow and freezing nights. I really hope that the snow has protected the flower bud from the cold rather than causing it undue stress. Only time will tell......
Rachel Bailey, a garden designer and gardener in Scotland.